December 19, 2011

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LM Best Men's Coach of 2011: Virginia's Dom Starsia

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Virginia reinvented itself in 2011 under coach Dom Starsia, and the Cavaliers capped the year with a run to the NCAA title.
© Greg Shemitz

In the locker room at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore after Virginia won the NCAA championship, Dom Starsia turned to assistant coach John Walker and delivered some sage words. "That goes against everything you believe in sports," Starsia said.

He meant how Virginia won the championship over Maryland, and even reached the title game. Unexpected players stepped up unexpected ways — Colin Briggs, for example, with five goals in the championship game — and in a larger sense, Starsia reinvented the Cavaliers' offense and defense in the second half of the season.

There was a coaching job to be done on the field. Injuries forced the normally run-and-gun Cavaliers into exclusively using a zone defense by mid-April, and the dismissal of Rhamel and Shamel Bratton in the last week of the regular season tilted possession more in the hands of Steele Stanwick.

There was coaching to be done off the field, too. The Brattons suspensions could have sent the team spinning, and unavoidable thoughts lingered about the pending murder trial faced by former player George Huguely.

At one point, the Cavaliers were 8-5, losers of four of their last five games and looking like they were the worst team in the ACC. But after shuffling players and implementing new systems, they finished strong, and capped what Starsia called "the most peculiar season I've ever been involved with" by winning an unlikely championship.

Starsia said he spent time this season wondering "if I've been doing this wrong my whole life, because things that were probably born of necessity this year just seemed like the right thing to do." If doing what he did was wrong, we don't want to be right.

LaxMagazine.com Fan Vote

Dom Starsia, Virginia
45%
A series of obstacles forced adjustments by the Virginia coaching staff. The team rode them to an unlikely national championship.

Bill Tierney, Denver
28%
If before the season, somebody said Denver would be in the final four, you likely would have taken that bet. But my midseason, after a strong start and a win over Duke, second-year coach Bill Tierney realized the potential of the 2011 Pioneers. By late in the season, Tierney said Denver was a no doubt final four contender, and he turned out to be right. Many thought he could elevate the program to that level eventually, but few thought it would happen this quickly, in Tierney's second year in Colorado. Denver went 15-3, hosted the first NCAA tournament game west of the Mississippi and beat Villanova in it, ousted Johns Hopkins in the quarterfinals before running into eventual champ Virginia in Baltimore at the final four.

Bill Daye, Boston Cannons
16%
Daye, a Cannons original as a goalie in 2001, led the franchise to its first MLL championship in August after failed attempts in nine previous playoff years for Boston. The Cannons won the MLL regular season title, beat the Chesapeake Bayhawks in Hurricane Irena in the semifinals and edged the Hamilton Nationals, 10-9, in the championship game the next days. About five weeks after the season, Daye decided to step down as head coach to spend more time with his family, he said.

Dave Pym, Calgary Roughnecks
10%
It's one thing to coach a team through a losing streak, but what about if you don't know if your game is going to be played that weekend because of the financial state of the team. Pym had to lead the Calgary Roughnecks through those circumstances in 2011. Former owner Brad Banister admitted to trouble paying players and the team was only able to make a road trip to Philadelphia because of an anonymous private donation. Through it all, Calgary won the NLL West Division regular season title, and reached the Western Division finals. The Roughnecks' Jeff Shattler was named league MVP and Curtis Dickson was rookie of the year.

A version of this article appears in the December issue of Lacrosse Magazine as part of LM"s "Best of Lacrosse 2011" package. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 350,000-plus members today to start your monthly subscription.


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